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Questioning Relationship of Unexplained Adolescent Death and Sleep Terror/Sleepwalking Disorders

by Caryn Oderberg Barkin
(Los Angeles)

I am a 59 year old female. I lost my twin brother at age 15 years 5 months. He died during the night. As I am the person who found him, I know that there was some type of episode that occurred, because of the position in which I found him. Of course there was an autopsy, and the death certificate says "cause unknown."


When I became a parent my husband pulled a copy of the autopsy report and I asked my pediatrician to review it with me, as I did not want to be an unreasonably terrified parent. The pediatrician went through the entire report which basically said there was no reason found as to why he died.

Recently I began seeing a therapist who specializes in twin loss, as I have some issues to resolve regarding my identity development after the loss of my twin. In the course of therapy I asked some family members if they remembered anything about my brother.

My uncle, now elderly but very clear mentally and a licensed clinical psychologist still practicing, said that he was called over to our house often in the night because of my brother's sleep walking. I was completely unaware of this.

Are there situations where a child/adolescent can die during a sleep terror or sleep walking episode?

I have a 32 year old son who had severe sleep terrors from the age of 6 months to 8 years old. At that time a friend who is a neurologist at Kaiser in Los Angeles said that at Kaiser they prescribe a dose of Benadryl for children with sleep terrors. I began giving my son Benadryl that night and every night until he went to college. He never had another sleep terror during that entire time.

His sleep terror issue returned recently when he became a father, and his wife tried to wake him from sleep. She was quite frightened, and never tried to wake him again.

My 10 month old grandson experienced a sleep terror recently while I was babysitting. I identified the situation instantly, and found out later that he had missed a nap, was over-tired, and had trouble being put to bed. Very familiar scenario.

I am wondering if there is a possible connection to my twin brother's death and sleep terrors, as I am concerned about the risk to my grandson, and my son as well, though he is 32 years old.

In 1984, when my son's sleep terrors were at their worst, my pediatrician suggested we come to Stanford for a sleep study, and that it was the only location he would recommend. We opted not to do it at that time.

Now I am back inquiring to Stanford regarding sleep terrors. I look forward to hearing from you.

Caryn Barkin

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